Monday, November 30, 2009

Jen Coleman & David Wolach in Portland, 11/24/09

This spring, poets Jamalieh Haley and Donald Dunbar launched a new reading series, If Not For Kidnap Poetry, in their home near Reed College. November’s installment brought David Wolach down from Evergreen State to read with local hero of a year now, Jen Coleman. I love house readings of any stripe, and Jamalieh and Donald’s was pretty much the quintessence of the genre, with PBR boxes and serve-yourself wine; pictures on the wall by Ashley d’Avignon Goodwin, who’s involved with The Benefactor Magazine, where Donald’s Poetry Editor; and loose sets played between readings by Kenny Anderson, who’d stripped down to a small amp and Stratocaster to fit the acoustics of the living room.

David Wolach’s in his fourth year of teaching at Evergreen, but I met him for the first time at the Econvergence reading in Portland just last month. David’s posted a helpful run-down of the projects he read from, in collaboration with Elizabeth Williamson and with spontaneous audience assistance from Allison Cobb. Standing in the back, I didn’t quite catch what Allison was doing with the tape recorded message David handed her, along with a pad and paper, or why David moved through the audience taking pictures while Elizabeth read from a text. Not being clear on the setup added to the air of surprise and incipient mystery that comes with being a public inside someone’s home, not sure what belongs with whom or how much the objects disclose of the lives lived among them. The space troubled the usual split between public and private, displaying Goodwin’s pictures—which I found out later were snapshots by mall cops of minority women caught shoplifting—in “family photo”-style frames scattered throughout the house, and featuring a bookshelf with the “Staff Recommendations” stickers from its previous home still taped to the edges, jackets with pictures of Oscar Wilde and Stephen Colbert turned in a classic bookstore “face out.” By the time David started to photograph the audience, it felt weird but also right to pull the listeners’ anonymity into the general display, and to not be sure which was which.

David’s language had a musical, gently oratorical roll that shot through the various conceptual framings; I appreciated that some of the poems were written on dérives through hospitals, but I loved that they included “pointillistic penises,” a “bellicose masturbator with baby fetish,” and full-throated punning—“CAT scam,” “World Wide Wedge,” “O say can you flee”—that did solid political work while also recalling the schoolyard fun of early language games. “Because money protects you from people who fuck you” was the night’s brutal takeaway for me, one of those lines that leaves you gloomy from the sentiment but laughing at the symmetry, relieved a little too at hearing thought hit the pith like that. (More to come ...)

No comments: